A deep plunge into murky waters, MGMT’s follow-up to its breakout 2007 album, Oracular Spectacular, will turn away listeners expecting a string of soundtrack-friendly sort-of hits like “Kids” and “Time To Pretend.” That’s almost certainly by design, since nobody makes an album as dense and immersive as Congratulations by accident. But for all its careful aversion to hooks and propulsive beats—or even, on some tracks, a consistent rhythm—Congratulations is anything but off-putting. It offers one sonic reward after another, and the band remains as inviting as ever. It’s the nature of the party that’s changed.
Specifically, MGMT has moved from dance floors to black-lit rooms and made an unapologetically psychedelic album close in spirit, if not sound, to Flaming Lips’ Embryonic. It’s a trip, layering disparate elements—colliding a Phil Spector drum sound with eerie keyboards here, falsetto vocals and a snaky guitar that explode into an angelic refrain there—and daring listeners not to get lost in the swirl. That may not be possible the first time through, but what MGMT’s latest has lost in sing-along choruses, it’s gained in repeated rewards. “How will I know if it’s working?” goes a line in the album-opening “It’s Working.” If Congratulations doesn’t take effect immediately, that’s just because it takes a little longer to kick in.